Sunday, November 02, 2008

Clensing the Palette with Sarah Marshall

Tonight Paige and I watched M. Nigh Shyamalan's "The Happening". I'd read the reviews, and had pretty low expectations. I had my smarmy remark all planned. Credits would roll, and I'd say, "Well, that happened." I'd say it with such a complete lack of passion that it would convey that I knew the line was unoriginal, but I didn't even care about that.

Well, the movie managed to disappoint, to the extent that I couldn't manage to say, "That happened," unless by "that" I meant a painful waste of time, strung along by some hope for the fabled M. Night Shyamalan surprise ending, which, it turns out, was an endangered species in the beginning of his career and is now officially extinct. Not only was the ending bad, but the whole movie made me wonder if he'd agreed to the basic premise on a dare. Someone said, [Spoiler Alert] "Hey, M., I'll bet you can't make a movie where the villain is a plant! And I'm not talking about some kind of mobile plant monster, but just a regular old rooted plant."

And M. said, "Well, can it be more than one rooted plant?"

"Um, I guess."

"Can it be all the plants in the world? 'Cause I think I'm onto something here!"

"Oh, crap. What have I done."

Yep, I'll bet that's how it went down. And down, and down, until it fell into a steaming pile that was this movie. And I'm not even trying to be gross, but the movie was a lot like poop. Imagine someone taking a dump in public. You'd be horrified, and you wouldn't enjoy it, but you'd have trouble looking away at first just because the whole scene would be so surreal. That's what the first few minutes of this movie were like. But when the crazy person pulls up his drawers and walks away, you wouldn't saunter over and stare at the poop for another hour and a half, would you? Well, maybe you would if you thought that, at the end of that time, the poop would do something really amazing which you couldn't possibly have expected. Only, it doesn't. So now you're the guy who stared at human feces on a sidewalk for two hours. How do you feel? That's how I felt after "The Happening."

Paige went to bed, but I couldn't just take that feeling into the dark. It's one thing to go to bed scared by images in a horror film. That's a part of the experience. But it's altogether different to go to bed angry, imagining the bodily harm you'd like to inflict on some arrogant, over-rated filmmaker. My psyche doesn't need that.

So I watched our next Netflix offering, "Forgetting Sarah Marshal". Judd Apatow, the producer, gets a lot of credit because he produced this, which seems a bit unfair to me. I'm sure the director, Nicholas Stoller, contributed more than Apatow, but I think the most credit should go to Jason Segel, who not only played the lead roll but wrote the script, played the songs, and even operated a puppet. The guy was amazing. The movie is very funny at times, but the thing that struck me the most was the fact that the characters all seemed amazingly believable. I don't actually know any Hollywood actresses or rock stars (or, for that matter, pot-head surf instructors) but the characters all broke free of cliches and, more than that, of their archetypal parts in the standard machine of a romantic comedy. I can't recommend it to my Creative Writing class (not appropriate) but that's a shame, because it's a good lesson in how to avoid two-dimensional characters, even when two-dimensional characters seem like the kinds of tools that will allow you to claw your way through a plot. Kudos, Jason Segel! And thank you for washing my mouth out with your (pretty filthy) movie, to clear away the toxic "Happening".


@bdul muHib said...

I didn't read all of your review, as it seemed like there were some spoilers in it. Is that true? What I was wondering, if someone is really interested in biology and evolution, would this movie be more appealing, do you think? I've been interested in watching it because it plays with the Malthusian paradaigm as it relates to population cycles.

Benjamin Gorman said...

Frankly, no, it would be just as frustrating or more so for someone interested in science. You know how shoes like CSI play fast and loose with science, doing DNA testing in minutes, for example. Well, this one, despite the supposed natural origin of the htreat and the science teacher's use of the scientific method to identify that threat, relies on such junk science that a person with even a passing knowledge of biology or biochemistry would be just as frustrated. By all means, watch it and shoot me your reaction. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think you'll be left with more questions than answers, and not in a good way.

@bdul muHib said...

Does your post have spoilers in it? If you tell me no, I'll go back and read it in more detail.

Benjamin Gorman said...

It does. I had such a negative experience, I can hardly imagine making it worse, but see the movie, then read the post and judge if it would have ruined the experience, rather than the other way around.

@bdul muHib said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
@bdul muHib said...

I so wish I'd listened to you. Mea culpa. From now on I will.

That was awful. Let's move beyond the total lack of acting, or writing that made sense, or internal consistency, or good directing. The science in it SUCKED! No, bees are not disappearing all over the world- though they are dying at alarming rates. No, mood rings aren't real and don't read our emotions. No, plants don't communicate in the slightest, unless you mean that reproduction is a form of communication, and they certainly don't communicate between species. No, plants can't sense anything from humans or understand them. This guy must have been the worst science teacher EVER!!! He must be one of those who can get a job teaching Literal Creationism in Arkansas. There wasn't a single scientific fact mentioned in this movie that was remotely accurate. But by far the worst of the worst, the most horrible, was in the beginning, when the science teacher, of all people, claims that science is all about not understanding nature, and even...I have trouble writing this I am so appalled...even states that one of his students has an idea, and it's only a theory!!! Like a theory isn't an overarching explanation of reality. Like it's not the best we can get in science! This guy didn't know jack shit about science, and neither does M. Night Shamalan, or anyone remotely associated with this movie. What it did do was strike another blow for post-modern metanarratives destroying any understanding we have of science, which is ultimately the only way we're going to get out of the Global Warming mess we've created.

The only positive way to watch this movie would be on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and then it would compete with Manos Hands of Fate for worst movie of all time.

My next movie is Mongol, which I hope is better. I'm told it's got great scenery, at the very least. My last movie was The Visitor. If you haven't seen it, I'd recommend it. I gave it 5 stars, as opposed to this one star shit I just finished with.